Pakistan must pursue a more ambitious plan to tap its variable renewable energy (VRE) — solar and wind power — potential to significantly increase its share in the country’s energy mix than the one planned in the National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC) 10-year Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan (IGCEP) prepared last year.

In its analysis of the IGCEP 2021-22, a German think tank, Agora Energiewendie, suggests that Pakistan has the potential to generate at least 33,000 megawatts of solar and wind power or more than 48 per cent of the the planned increase in electricity production to nearly 70,000MW in the next 10 years. That will result in generation cost savings of 15pc and emission savings of almost 50pc, says the recently commissioned Agora study titled ‘Solar and Wind Roadmap for Pakistan’.

The study examines VRE scenarios beyond 2022 and reviews the 10-year generation expansion planning for Pakistan, evaluating the possibility and benefits of pursuing a more ambitious solar and wind power target by 2030-31. Based on the hourly dispatch of 2030, the study concludes that an increase in the planned total VRE capacity is possible by adding minor grid infrastructure reinforcements.

“Increasing VRE to 33,000MW by 2030 or 60pc greater than the IGCEP planned 21,000MW has high benefits and is stable under all scenarios. For any unexpected change in demand or others, the annual tender capacities of solar and wind can be adjusted flexibly in the future,” it adds.

German think tank suggests that Pakistan can generate 33,000MW through wind and solar power in the next decade

The study further recommends including this more ambitious target in the next iteration of the IGCEP, which is due in June this year. It also suggests pursuing a strategic reinforcement of road infrastructure (including the high-voltage direct current link to Chaghai in Balochistan), focusing on the flexibilisation of the operation of hydro and coal units, and implementing a stringent and localised annual tender plan for auctioning out the 33,000MW of solar and wind power over the life of the NTDC plan.

The NTDC prepares IGCEP every year as required under the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority law to forecast the electricity demand and supply scenarios in the country over the next decade and gives plans to boost power generation from different fuels to meet the increase in demand.

The IGCEP encapsulates power generation additions required to meet the country’s future energy and power demand, including NTDC and K-Electric (KE) systems. Three scenarios of long-term forecast are prepared for the low, normal and high GDP growth of 3.40pc, 4.30pc and 5.42pc, respectively.

Agora has made its VRE recommendations based on the ‘base case’ scenario developed by the NTDC on a normal scenario of the long-term forecast, existing contractual obligations and retirements of power projects during the planning horizon. For the study, 8,021MW of existing power generation capacity is retired during the planning horizon in every scenario.

In the base case, the demand and installed capacity of the whole country, as forecast by the IGCEP, is 41,338MW and 69,372MW, respectively, by 2031, according to the IGCEP executive summary.

It is to highlight that in the planned future installed capacity, the optimised share of VRE is 20,548MW — 13,680MW from solar photovoltaic (PV) and 6,868MW from wind. That will be about 30pc of the total projected installed generation capacity in 2031. This is in line with the 2019 alternate energy plan that seeks to increase renewable energy share in the power generation fuel mix from the existing 7pc to 20pc by 2025 and 30pc by 2030.

The salient features of the IGCEP base case include aggressive inclusion of VREs, minimal reliance on imported fuels, that is, coal, RLNG and Residual Furnace Oil (RFO), and increased share of hydropower as well as local coal, with all optimised generation based on indigenous resources.

The IGCEP says the inclusion of VREs, hydro and local coal will help lower the basket price of the overall system, thus providing much-needed relief to consumers though in the long run.

The current installed generation capacity in the country is 41,239MW megawatts, including 3,319MW produced by KE. The committed projects will have a capacity of 14,159MW, while the candidate projects of 17,812MW.

Historically, Pakistan strongly relies on hydropower. Heavy capacities in thermal plants have been added over the years based on coal, heavy fuel oil, gas and nuclear to cover demand-supply. Apart from some domestic coal and gas, all fuels are imported. Solar and wind are at their initial stages with a share of 1pc and 4pc in the total energy mix, respectively.

The Agora study, conducted by energy experts working on or in Pakistan’s energy sector, describes the IGCEP as much more progressive in terms of wind’s 7,000MW and solar’s 14,000MW power than the last version. However, it still includes substantial further investments in local coal and other fossil fuel plants.

Due to the developments in the global energy market since early 2022, a completely new situation has evolved for countries dependent on imported energy like Pakistan: imported coal and gas prices have almost doubled, increasing Pakistan’s electricity generation costs and consumer prices and often leading to planned loadshedding to save money on energy imports that have caused the current account imbalance to worsen.

The Agora study says the increase in VRE does not mean that evacuation capacities have to be constructed in the grid infrastructure. “The envisaged VRE capacity is located across the country at different voltage levels, allowing the usage of existing infrastructure. Feeder-based and net metering plants do not require transmission grid infrastructure; furthermore, 1,000MW of PV nameplate capacity are typically connected to 0.8-0.9GW of evacuation capacity with a negligible amount of curtailment,” it points out.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 13th, 2023

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